LGBT+ ally Penny Mordaunt named UK Defence Secretary

Britain's International Development Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt leaves 10 Downing Street after attending a Cabinet meeting in London on April 23, 2019.

The UK government’s equalities minister Penny Mordaunt has been named Defence Secretary.

The Conservative politician, who has been a prominent supporter of LGBT+ rights in government, will continue in her role as Minister for Women and Equalities while also replacing the sacked Gavin Williamson as Secretary of State for Defence.

In the equalities brief, the minister has been a strong proponent of LGBT+ rights, vowing to outlaw conversion therapy, and pressing forward with plans to reform gender recognition laws for trans people.

Mordaunt, the MP for Portsmouth North and a member of the Royal Navy Reserves, is the UK’s first female Defence Secretary.

Her appointment on Wednesday (May 1) comes days after Mordaunt made an impassioned speech about LGBT+ equality in the Armed Forces.

Penny Mordaunt hailed military LGBT+ rights reforms

Speaking at Stonewall’s Workplace Conference on Friday (April 26), the minister said that including LGBT+ people in military service “wasn’t just the right thing to do morally, but a matter of operational effectiveness,” adding: “You can’t fight a war if you are busy obsessing over someone’s sexuality or hiding who you are.”

Mordaunt praised “the wonderful Captain Hannah Graf,” a transgender British Army officer who was named Stonewall’s Trans Role Model of the year.

Noting that gay troops were banned from serving until 2000, the minister continued: “The change in the army on LGBT rights is like the difference between bayonets and smart missiles, yet it happened so much more rapidly and that should serve as an inspiration to us all.”

Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt

Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt (Dan Kitwood/Getty)

She said: “[LGBT inclusion] is not about being woke or PC or trendy. It’s about the margin victory in every endeavour we set our hearts on. It’s about respect, care, love and compassion for others.

“I know this from my military service as a reservist and later as a minister for armed forces. Self-knowledge, self-respect and self-confidence are an operational imperative to our armed forces. Which is why they have come a long way in such a short space of time.”

Penny Mordaunt will press ahead with LGBT+ rights reforms

Mordaunt launched an LGBT rights action plan in May 2018.

The plan included a pledge to outlaw gay ‘cure’ therapy in the UK, to appoint a national LGBT health adviser, to invest in programmes that tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools, and to ensure Relationships and Sex Education “will support all pupils, whatever their developing sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Mordaunt has indicated that the UK government will push forward with transgender rights reforms, despite hostility to the plans.

She said: “There is a particularly strong imperative to support the rights of trans people in the workplace. In fact worries about different documents with different gender markers can make trans people fearful about even applying for a job.

“The government wants to make this process, and the wider experience of being trans, much easier.

“We want to reform the way that trans people can legally change their gender, and make the process far less bureaucratic and intrusive.”

She added: “We held a public consultation last year on how best to do this, and we received more than 100,000 responses and we’re working hard to analyse them and will publish our response very shortly.”

Mordaunt had compared anti-transgender attitudes to 1980s homophobia.

She said: “We need to address people’s concerns, but fundamentally I think that discrimination and bigotry is very much like what gay men faced in the 1980s.

“None of us were in politics at that time, but if we were, would we have stood up for that community? I hope we would have.

“But that’s happening now to the trans community, and we really need to show leadership on this issue and really insure that misleading information, unpleasant things on social media, lectures or videos that are being broadcast, are called out for what they are. I feel very strongly around that.”